Growth is expected for the cold and frozen dispensed beverage category in 2022. While the segment saw dips due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health precautions in the self-serve section of c-stores are giving customers the confidence to return to the segment.
“Once customers saw that we were taking extra precautions, it really made them feel comfortable to make those purchases,” said Nicolette Jaeger, director of merchandising & loyalty at Warrenville, Ill.-based The PRIDE Stores, which operates 15 c-stores in the Chicagoland area, one in Indiana and 93 Octane Brewery.
Precautions include offering customers tissue paper and/or gloves to dispense drinks, plus additional cleaning and disinfecting of the dispensers.
Jim Rastetter, category manager at Richmond, Va.-based GPM Investments, believes that COVID protocols will remain for the foreseeable future.
“COVID protocols are a critical element to any successful beverage program today, as customers expect clean and sanitized beverage areas,” he said.
At GPM Investments, which has approximately 1,400 company-operated stores, dispensed beverage sales haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, particularly due to consumers working from home. However, the frozen dispensed segment, specifically, has grown even during the pandemic, and Rastetter expects that growth will continue.
This summer, GPM is launching an exclusive Frazil flavor in the category.
“With fewer restrictions in place, 2022 should really be a standout year for this category,” Jaeger said.
“When customers enter our stores in 2022, our goal is for them to find their favorite beverage flavor,” said Rastetter. His advice to other retailers is to continue offering new flavors year-round to drive excitement in the category.
GPM brings new and classic flavors to the cold and frozen dispensed beverage category, as traditional flavors continue to do well at its stores.
“Mountain Dew, for example, represents more than 15% of all fountain sales,” said Rastetter.
In terms of frozen dispensed beverages, Tiger’s Blood — a combination of watermelon, strawberry and coconut — is the most popular flavor at GPM.
“GPM will be rotating five different frozen slush flavors in 2022, including a GPM exclusive during (our annual promotion) ‘100 Days of Summer,’” Rastetter noted.
GPM designs its fountain assortments to match consumer interests in different geographical regions. For example, the company supplies the Big Red dispensed flavor to its stores in the Texas market, as that flavor is popular there.
GPM plans to extend its frozen dispensed beverage program to additional stores in 2022.
Jaeger also remarked on the importance of flavor variety. The PRIDE Stores will see more innovative flavors as well as brand collaborations for the cold and frozen dispensed beverage category.
She expects that there will soon be a demand for nostalgic flavors.
The PRIDE Stores has tap handles of all-natural craft sodas, free of artificial sweeteners, made in-house. Pineapple and watermelon are its most popular flavors.
“Making the sodas in-house allows us to rotate flavors often and create new and innovative flavors quickly,” Jaeger said.